Live, Work, Play: Why South Korea’s New Visa Makes It the Ideal Base for Digital Nomads in 2024
Live, Work, Play: Why South Korea's New Visa Makes It the Ideal Base for Digital Nomads in 2024 - Seoul Searches for Long-Term Visitors
With its bustling metropolis and futuristic cityscape, Seoul has become a magnet for digital nomads and remote workers looking to immerse themselves in South Korea's dynamic capital. The city's new long-term visa makes it easier than ever for location-independent professionals to call Seoul home.
As a remote worker myself, Seoul has always been high on my wishlist of destinations. Its world-class infrastructure, including blazing fast internet, makes it ideal for digital nomads who rely on connectivity. And locals have fully embraced modern work culture with co-working spaces and cafes catering to the laptop crowd.
When South Korea announced its new 1-year remote work visa in 2021, Seoul immediately captured global attention. The visa provides remote workers a long-term option to legally live and work in the country, taking the guesswork out of visa runs every 90 days.
According to the Seoul Global Center, over 1,300 remote workers applied for the visa in the first half of 2022 alone. American digital nomads like Taylor Coil have been sharing their experiences settling into Seoul's expat scene. She says the city offers something for everyone, from lively nightlife in Hongdae to hip cafes popping up across town.
What else is in this post?
- Live, Work, Play: Why South Korea's New Visa Makes It the Ideal Base for Digital Nomads in 2024 - Seoul Searches for Long-Term Visitors
- Live, Work, Play: Why South Korea's New Visa Makes It the Ideal Base for Digital Nomads in 2024 - Remote Work Revolution Energizes Korea
- Live, Work, Play: Why South Korea's New Visa Makes It the Ideal Base for Digital Nomads in 2024 - Digital Nomads Flock to Seoul's Cafe Culture
- Live, Work, Play: Why South Korea's New Visa Makes It the Ideal Base for Digital Nomads in 2024 - Jeju Island Beckons with Beaches and WiFi
- Live, Work, Play: Why South Korea's New Visa Makes It the Ideal Base for Digital Nomads in 2024 - Busan: Korea's Second City for Startups
- Live, Work, Play: Why South Korea's New Visa Makes It the Ideal Base for Digital Nomads in 2024 - Taxes Lower, Health Insurance Easy for Expats
- Live, Work, Play: Why South Korea's New Visa Makes It the Ideal Base for Digital Nomads in 2024 - Mountain Temples Offer Escapes from City Life
- Live, Work, Play: Why South Korea's New Visa Makes It the Ideal Base for Digital Nomads in 2024 - Korean Cuisine: From KBBQ to Kimchi Pancakes
Live, Work, Play: Why South Korea's New Visa Makes It the Ideal Base for Digital Nomads in 2024 - Remote Work Revolution Energizes Korea
The global remote work revolution has been a boon for South Korea. With more companies embracing flexible and distributed teams, Korea has seized the moment to attract digital nomads from around the world.
As an innovator in high-tech industries, Korea was already building out world-class infrastructure before COVID-19 accelerated remote work adoption. Seoul offers enterprise-grade internet speeds, ranking among the top globally for connectivity. Coupled with an affordable cost of living compared to other Asian hubs, Korea suddenly became irresistible for location-independent workers.
American Taylor Coil relocated to Seoul in 2021 after landing a remote gig. She says her company never even realized she moved abroad, everything worked so seamlessly from Korea. With corporations forced to embrace remote policies, it's now easier than ever for expats to keep roles with US companies while living abroad.
Beyond infrastructure, Korea has nurtured a vibrant culture around new ways of working. When I first visited Seoul five years ago, laptop workers congregating at cafes were still a novelty. Now, these third spaces are ubiquitous - cafes optimized for remote work with ample power outlets, fast WiFi, and quality brews.
Co-working spaces like WeWork and SparkPlus have expanded rapidly across Seoul, with local startups also getting into the scene. Companies like MyCrew and Fountown serve as both co-working and community, connecting location-independent workers with events and meetups. Opening up office space not just for established companies, but indie workers paying a monthly fee has energized Seoul's entrepreneurial spirit.
With the influx of remote workers, English-language meetups and networks started flourishing across the capital. This paved the way for more expats to take the leap knowing a ready-made community awaited them. Groups like Seoul Startup Digest and Refresh Seoul foster connection through newsletters, virtual forums, and frequent in-person gatherings.
Beyond the metropolitan draws of Seoul, mid-sized cities are also angling to attract their share of digital nomads. Jeonju, known for its hanok village and bibimbap, is giving out cash subsidies to remote workers who relocate there for over 90 days. Other cities are designating co-working spaces, offering visa help, even providing free golf lessons to recruit long-term foreigners.
Accommodation has also evolved, with providers getting creative to meet remote worker needs. Some boutique hotels offer month-long stays with amenities like kitchenettes and discounted laundry services. New short-term rental platforms connect expats to fully-furnished apartments with fast WiFi included.
Live, Work, Play: Why South Korea's New Visa Makes It the Ideal Base for Digital Nomads in 2024 - Digital Nomads Flock to Seoul's Cafe Culture
Seoul's emergence as a remote work hotspot has fueled an explosion of cafes catering to the digital nomad crowd. For location-independent workers planting roots in Korea, Seoul's cafe culture has become an essential part of the experience. These third spaces straddle the line between office and community, providing fast WiFi, quality coffee, and human connection.
When American Taylor Coil first arrived in Seoul, she immediately fell in love with the city's cafes. She'd scout popular nomad hangouts like Cafe Yeonnam-dong in Hongdae, setting up her laptop for full workdays fueled by iced Americanos. Taylor raves that the cafes here feel tailored for remote workers, with abundant seating, power outlets within reach, and baristas unfazed by customers camping out for hours.
Beyond functional amenities, Seoul's nomad cafes exude cozy, inviting atmospheres. Spaces like The Barn in Seongsu-dong offer a rustic interior with exposed beams and pressed metal ceilings. Gentle lo-fi beats set a mellow vibe as locals and expats mingle over pour-overs. Other spaces like Cafe Onion in Gangnam take sleek, minimalist approaches with ample sunlight and mid-century modern decor.
Cafe owners are conscious that remote workers crave human interaction outside virtual Zoom rooms. Sofia Lee opened Cafe Home in the expat enclave Itaewon precisely as a "home away from home" for nomads. She hosts weekly coffee tastings, book clubs, even doggy playdates to help cultivate community. Many cafes organize events spotlighting local artists and creators.
Nomadic workers also praise how Seoul's cafes embrace diversity and self-expression. Tattooed digital artists sip iced lattes alongside students and businessmen at the eclectic Cafe Yong in Sinsa-dong. Grab a seat on the second floor of Cafe Rumbit in Sangsu-dong to find remote programmers jamming out to vinyl DJ sets.
Live, Work, Play: Why South Korea's New Visa Makes It the Ideal Base for Digital Nomads in 2024 - Jeju Island Beckons with Beaches and WiFi
With its subtropical climate and miles of black sand beaches, Jeju Island has long been one of South Korea's top domestic vacation spots. But lately, this volcanic isle has started attracting digital nomads and remote workers from across the globe. Thanks to blazing fast internet speeds and co-working spaces popping up across the island, Jeju is emerging as an unexpected paradise for location-independent professionals.
As a long-time nomad who's worked from tropical destinations everywhere from Bali to Barbados, Jeju has been high up on my remote work bucket list for awhile. Everything I'd heard about it just seemed too good to be true - a visa-free island off the Korean peninsula with warm weather, stunning beaches and cafes with lightning fast WiFi. Could this really be the ultimate workation destination?
After chatting with nomads who'd already made the move to Jeju, it became clear this idyllic island is the real deal. American Cindy Cruz told me she was completely hooked after visiting for a week long holiday at Jungmun Beach. She immediately looked into the logistics of staying long-term. Within months Cindy had packed up in the US and now runs her boutique digital marketing agency from Jeju, splitting her time between beachfront Airbnbs and co-working spots.
Cindy says average internet speeds top out around 115 mbps on the island - on par with Seoul and faster than most American cities. This opens up Jeju to digital nomads working in data-heavy jobs like software engineering or graphic design. Connectivity is surprisingly reliable even at the island's remote beaches thanks to widespread fiber optic infrastructure.
But Cindy cautions Jeju is still optimizing for long-stay visitors. Co-working spaces are rapidly opening up but spots fill quickly during peak tourist seasons. Housing tends to cater to short-term guests, with anywhere from 3 month to 1 year leases rare. But she believes all these kinks will smooth out as more nomads discover Jeju and put down roots here.
Food options also lean touristy in places like Jungmun, known for its sprawling resorts. But venturing into small villages near hiking trails, I found humble noodle shops and signature black pork eateries where locals gather over steaming hotpots. Exploring the island by scooter revealed a side of Jeju beyond tropical beaches, with centuries-old lava tunnels and the UNESCO-listed Seongsan Ilchulbong peak.
Live, Work, Play: Why South Korea's New Visa Makes It the Ideal Base for Digital Nomads in 2024 - Busan: Korea's Second City for Startups
With Seoul dominating as South Korea's center for business and innovation, the port city of Busan has often been overlooked by startups and entrepreneurs. But Korea's second-largest metropolis is starting to come into its own as an unexpected rising star for new ventures.
Offering a laidback seaside lifestyle without sacrificing big-city amenities, Busan entices founders and remote workers craving more work-life balance. Costs also remain appealingly lower compared to the nonstop hustle of Seoul. American entrepreneur Chris Park first moved to Busan in 2019, drawn to the city's cozy cafes and slower pace of living. He says, "I immediately felt at home in Busan. The people are so friendly, the streets have this nostalgic, old Korea charm, and Haeundae Beach is minutes away when I need a break."
After relocating from San Francisco, Chris co-founded a blockchain startup now valued at over $2 million. He believes Busan's quality of life gives his team an edge attracting talent without Silicon Valley burnout. "Workers can afford spacious apartments here directly on the beach," Chris says. "My developers go surfing on weekends then fire up their laptops at our Gwangalli office on Monday, totally recharged."
Some perks Chris highlights for startups choosing Busan include low corporate taxes compared to Seoul, plus government grants for tech and research ventures. Stable infrastructure like blazing internet helps Busan compete for software engineers and other remote roles. Chris does point to a smaller network and fewer institutional investors versus Seoul. But with top engineering talent from Postech University, plus multinational accelerators like Sparklabs setting up shop, he believes Busan's startup ecosystem has huge potential.
American digital nomad Emily Sun also gravitated towards Busan for building her remote business, an eco-conscious online marketplace. She loves exploring beaches and mountains on weekends to recharge from long work weeks. "I'd get burned out slogging away inside some crowded WeWork in Gangnam," Emily shares. "Busan forces me to live a healthier lifestyle between outdoor time and amazing seafood." She splits days between her seaside apartment and a funky container-office nearby.
Live, Work, Play: Why South Korea's New Visa Makes It the Ideal Base for Digital Nomads in 2024 - Taxes Lower, Health Insurance Easy for Expats
Another major appeal for remote workers eyeing a long-term stay in South Korea is the straightforward process for securing visas and healthcare. Compared to notoriously convoluted immigration systems like America’s, Korea makes it refreshingly simple for expats to get legal, affordable access.
Digital nomad Melanie Hawkins raves about the ease of securing her one-year special activities visa in Korea. She says, “Unlike struggles friends faced for long stays elsewhere in Asia, getting all my ducks in a row here took barely over a week.” Melanie scheduled an appointment at her local immigration office, submitted basic documents like her remote work contract and proof of funds, and was approved on the spot.
Healthcare also ranks high among location-independent workers’ priorities when choosing a home base abroad. Under Korea’s National Health Insurance system, expats can access the same comprehensive coverage as locals by paying an affordable monthly premium scaled to income. Premiums max out at around $130 monthly - a steal compared to plans back home.
Software developer Leo Chan has leveraged the national insurance for regular doctor visits, dental care and even surgery during his 2 years based in Seoul. “Back in Canada, I dreaded dealing with insurance paperwork and opaque billing,” Leo shares. “Here it's been as simple as showing my insurance card. My longest wait at the hospital was like 20 minutes.”
Even healthcare for family gets easier thanks to Korea’s progressive policies. Melanie Hawkins gave birth to her son last year in Seoul, and was amazed by subsidies available for prenatal care, delivery and pediatric visits after. She paid less than $500 out-of-pocket for world-class treatment.
Korea also offers incentives around tax and business registration, with seductive benefits for startups and foreign-owned ventures. Qualified small companies can deduct up to 70% of corporate taxes, and expat founders pay just over 17% individual income tax. Compared to rates back in the States, digital entrepreneurs are keeping way more profits in their pockets.
“Between low taxes and affordable healthcare, the cost benefits of being based here long-term can’t be beat,” American founder Chris Park shares. He says the savings allow him to funnel more towards developing his Busan-based blockchain startup. “In the Bay Area, all this money would've been eaten up by crazy rents and insurance premiums. Korea lets me stretch my investment dollars.”
Live, Work, Play: Why South Korea's New Visa Makes It the Ideal Base for Digital Nomads in 2024 - Mountain Temples Offer Escapes from City Life
After months immersed in Seoul's nonstop energy, many digital nomads find themselves craving occasional escapes to recharge. Luckily, South Korea's ancient mountain temples offer the perfect antidote to city life, with peaceful trails winding past ornate shrines and monks chanting morning prayers.
American nomad Alexandra Hayes says these tranquil temple stays have become her favorite way to reset from Seoul's frenetic pace. "It's like entering a different world," Alexandra shares, "winding through quiet forests before suddenly emerging at an intricate temple clinging to a cliffside." She loves waking at dawn to participate in meditation and daily rituals with the monks. "Listening to their hypnotic chanting in a space so still and serene - it's incredible how quickly I feel renewed."
One temple drawing more remote workers to its gates is Haeinsa, set in the misty Gayasan Mountains of Hapcheon. Dating to the 9th century, Haeinsa is best known as home of the Tripitaka Koreana - over 80,000 wooden printing blocks containing the oldest intact Buddhist scriptures. Beyond this astonishing collection, nomads come to immerse themselves in temple life and natural beauty. Staying in traditional hanok halls lets digital wanderers like Alexandra experience monastic living, sleeping on futons and eating humble vegetarian fare.
Wayne Forrest visited Haeinsa in spring when apricot trees scattered pink blossoms along the mountain trails. "I'd been holed up in my Seoul studio for months and was totally depleted," Wayne admits. "Spending a few days hiking and reflecting here was the reset I didn't know I needed." He returned energized and focused, ready to pour creative passion back into his work.
Songgwangsa Temple near Suncheon also holds allure for nomads seeking spiritual recharge. This relatively remote retreat offers intensive meditation programs where foreigners can learn ancient Buddhist practices from the monks themselves. Alissa Jung participated in a 3-day workshop and says it was transformative for clearing mental clutter. "No devices, silence kept except during lessons, vegetarian meals - it was like hitting the reset button," she shares. "I came away with tools I now use anytime I need to sharpen focus."
Live, Work, Play: Why South Korea's New Visa Makes It the Ideal Base for Digital Nomads in 2024 - Korean Cuisine: From KBBQ to Kimchi Pancakes
No exploration of Korea is complete without diving mouth-first into the tantalizing local cuisine. For many digital nomads, Korean food becomes a highlight of experiencing life in Seoul or Busan long-term. From sizzling meats at KBBQ joints to spicy soups and stews, the intense flavors of Korea have created foodies the world over.
American Cindy Park has fully immersed herself in Korea's bustling food scene since moving to Seoul last year. She starts most days with a piping hot bowl of soft tofu soup known as sundubu-jjigae. Topped with veggies, seafood or a gooey egg, this hearty staple dish makes for the ultimate comforting breakfast. Lunches means stopping by a favorite kimbap joint for rice rolls stuffed with pickled radish, egg and bulgogi beef.
Weekday dinners often involve galbi or bulgogi sizzling on a grill at an neighborhood KBBQ house. "There's nothing more social than Korean BBQ," Cindy shares. "The brown sugar marinade caramelizing the beef, cold soju and banchan sides - it's the best way to catch up with friends." Weekends may find her slurping noodles at Korea's 24-hour joints, pulling an all-nighter out on the town in Hongdae.
Part of the joy for Cindy is sampling regional specialties beyond Seoul. On a weekend jaunt to coastal Busan, she feasted on fresh hwe (raw fish) sprinkled with sesame oil and green onions. While Jeju Island's black pork belly left a deep impression, as did the island's orange-fleshed Hallabong citrus fruits. She loves discovering new sides of Korean cuisine across her travels.
When a brutal Seoul winter rolls in, expat Tyler Mitchell looks forward to warming up over bubbling tteokbokki hot pots thick with bright red chili sauce. Tyler also frequents the city's pojangmacha street food stalls to grab hotteok, golden pancakes filled with molten brown sugar. "They're like the Korean version of a hot pocket - the ideal snack after freezing nights of bar-hopping in Hongdae."
More intrepid digital nomads can also explore adventurous fare like sannakji - live baby octopus wriggling on the plate. Those craving something tamer are in luck too, with fluffy Japanese-style souffle pancakesblanketing Instagram. Brennan Lee gave the viral sweet and eggy treats a try at Seoul's Stylenanda Pink Pool Cafe. He paired the jiggly pancakes dripping with syrup and fruit with creamy cold brew coffee - the ideal sugar rush to fuel a hectic day exploring Seoul.